How I Feel After a Pastor Falls

4 Responses When a Pastor Falls

About two weeks ago, Terrie and I were in Australia ministering in local churches and at a national pastors’ conference. While there, I received reports of a fallen pastor back home. The disgrace of these situations is always grievous, no matter what the faith or denomination.

The pastor involved in the current situation is Jack Schaap from Hammond, Indiana. Some years ago, a number of us realized we could not fellowship with him due to some of his teachings and practices. (I clearly stated our philosophy which outlines the basis for our fellowship in a book I wrote fifteen years ago, Guided by Grace). Sadly, when well-intentioned men tried to warn him, he would not receive it.

Most of us who travel a bit know that his influence with most pastors has been very limited. Still, because First Baptist of Hammond is a well known Baptist church, there are those who have asked our thoughts.

I’m not a great “blogger,” so I called my dear friend and associate pastor of twenty-two years, Cary Schmidt. I said, “Cary, I’m in another time zone getting bits and pieces of this tragedy. Should I comment on it?” As he explained responses from various groups and “camps,” I sensed the burden that was building in his heart. When I checked email today, weighty questions and burdens relating to this issue came in, and I again sensed the Holy Spirit prompting me to share how I feel at times like these. Here are the four overwhelming responses in my heart to this tragedy.

I Am Grieved

  1. I feel terrible that the name of Jesus has been dishonored.
  2. I feel grieved for the victim that was abused. This type of abuse from a trusted person is especially grievous. (See 1 Corinthians 6:18.) (A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post dealing with some of the inappropriate responses to abuse and immorality that I have seen in various ministries over the years.)
  3. I feel grieved for the wife and family who bears this burden as well.
  4. I feel grieved for a church family that is stunned. I’m sure there are many Christ-loving Christians in this church.

I Feel Saddened

  1. It is saddening to all pastors when any pastor fails. Being a pastor is a great responsibility, and Scripture (particularly 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) sets clear requirements. (Years ago, I taught a session at Spiritual Leadership Conference on Biblical Qualifications of Pastoral Leadership.)
  2. It is sad when pastors do not seek godly friends and mentors who help them with accountability. I’m speaking of men with whom they can be open, honest, and transparent. (In the acknowledgements of my recent book Stewarding Life, I mentioned the names of several men who have helped me with transparent accountability through the years. I thank God for men who allow me entrance into their hearts at this personal level.) It is dangerous for pastors to operate in an untouchable bubble of authority structure. Although there are different ideas about how it should be structured, every spiritual leader needs genuine opportunities for fellowship, transparency, and accountability.
  3. It is sad and tragic when men who have failed morally previously are placed back in the pastorate. I don’t believe this is the situation at hand, but it has been the case in the past. The historic pattern of Baptist churches was to send a letter to the next church either recommending or warning the next church regarding a member. That practice should return and expand with the technology available. (This was brought up in a 2008 Times article regarding Baptist churches as well.) When a spiritual leader or a church refers a fallen pastor to another church, it is fair to blame those who knowingly referred him. It is not fair, however, to throw the larger group or denomination “under the bus” for lack of scriptural action that we as Baptists believe is to be handled by the local church body (Matthew 18). (Obviously, where there are matters of criminal activity, anyone who knows of it—whether or not they are part of that local church—should notify authorities.)
  4. It is sad to me that many pastors do not seek godly counsel before tragedy strikes. Although biblical counselors are not in great abundance, there are men who have given their lives to helping others if we as pastors need help. We are thankful for good ministries like the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship and their willingness to encourage and counsel those who seek guidance. Additionally, these counselors and older pastors can, in the spirit of Galatians 6:1–2, help fallen ministers and their families throughout these times of devastation. Our friend, Pastor Paul Kingsbury, who joins us in Australia today, has helped many broken families through the Reformers Unanimous ministry.
  5. It is frustrating when our witnessing opportunities are made more difficult because of this type of sin. As we all know, there are plenty of people who either hate the Word of God or want a reason not to listen to the Word, and I believe the sins, especially those that are public and criminal in nature, of those in leadership are probably among Satan’s best tools to leverage people away.

I Am Praying

  1. I am thankful that a church deacon did not cover this sin when it came to his knowledge. Any type of “loyalty” that covers sin is sin itself. I am praying that God will bless this type of obedience and bring revival to churches. All of us need to remember that “the best of men are men at best.” I pray that First Baptist of Hammond and other churches going through these trials will become more biblically-centered in their focus in the days ahead. I believe there are those there and in other places who hunger for this change. Certainly God can use the biblical integrity of a few to spur revival.
  2. I am praying for godly pastors in the unaffiliated Baptist churches like ours across America. I know hundreds of them who confront sin, report crime and abuse, and practice scriptural church discipline in their churches. They are men who have family altar, love their wives, and abstain from the appearance of evil. Yet, they will bear some forms of “guilt by association” because of a man who in most cases they never even met. (The position of our ministry, as well as hundreds of others that I know personally, is to immediately report instances of sexual abuse and criminal activity to state authorities. This is vital for every ministry—not only to protect their reputation, but, more importantly, for any victims involved.)
  3. I am praying for churches across America. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the Apostle Paul instructed, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” It is scriptural to lovingly support a godly pastor. But it is not scriptural to follow a pastor who is in sin. Millions of members leave their church annually over “preference issues” (i.e., they would organize things differently or they allow a small, personal offense to build out of proportion). But immorality or abuse should be confronted, and if it’s not dealt with, a church member should not feel obligated to support that church. (Again, I mention this in the blog post I wrote last year. Warren Wiersbe also dealt with these subjects in his classic little book, The Integrity Crisis.)

I Feel Challenged

  1. I am always personally challenged in my spirit when tragic news like this occurs. Although I have not read a single blog on this incident due to my schedule here in Australia, I can only imagine the opinions out there. And I admonish all of us to remember 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” We should use every opportunity to remember the challenge, “make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). I want to hear the words, “Well done” from my Lord, and I pray that my children and grandchildren will grieve my dying more than my living.
  2. I feel challenged to continue admonishing our students and friends to be vigilant. We can start well and end very, very wrong—damaging the Lord’s name, our families, innocent people, and our ministries.
  3. I feel challenged—and even optimistic—because Jesus alone is the “Rock” of the church, and He has promised to build the church. I believe that He, as a sovereign God, will build lives even in the most difficult of times. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
  4. I feel challenged to continue reaching people with the Gospel and sending missionaries to the uttermost parts of the World. In the book Church Still Works, we wrote of the good progress that churches have made when we walk in the Spirit and strive together for the faith of the Gospel as Philippians 1:27 admonishes. Days like today remind me of the prophecy that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3). This is a reality today; and unfortunately, some will not hear because of sin issues like the one at hand. So, I’m going to carry a pocketful of tracts with me today, and after I preach this morning, I’m going to look for one that may be willing to “hear.” George Truett said, “The highest privilege in life is the bringing of one soul to Jesus.” I hope to have that privilege today. And I hope you will do your best today to point someone to the One Who is always faithful.

This article was originally posted on the Pastor's Perspective.

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